The Ionian islands stretch from Corfu in the north to Zakinthos in the south. They make up a unique chain of islands, which in contrast to the Aegean Islands are green and lush; covered in olive groves, cypress trees and in parts heavily forested right down to the sparkling blue sea. Although close to the main land, each one has carved its own identity and culture. The people are welcoming and wherever you wander you are met with a smile and a wave. Sure, given their proximity to the main land and cooler climate they are well travelled, but in the most they have retained their charm and it is still really easy to get off the beaten track.
We have always used the Ionian Islands as a convenient place to pick up visitors to Vega and as a result have often been passing through quickly. This year we decided to spend some time in the islands before they get too busy and we are glad we did. From a travellers perspective the whole chain is linked by ferries and you could easily build up an itinerary hopping from one to another and in May things are still quiet and accommodation plentiful. In the height of summer things get a bit busier and a bit more planning would be needed.
Over the last three years we have visited all the islands in the chain, and our favorites have been Paxos, Cephalonia, Ithaca, Kastos, and Atokos. Atokos is uninhabited and while it is only 5NM east of Ithaca it feels very rugged and remote with its shear cliffs plunging into azure water, nesting sea birds and wild hillsides. On Atokos we anchored overnight and made teepees with the kids from washed up bamboo on the beach, before sharing a beach campfire with a Czech family drinking whiskey as it got dark. It was great fun and all very castaway.
The island of Ithaca is celebrated as the home of Homer’s odyssey and is a mecca for walkers. The main town of Vathi is a laid back place full of small artists workshops and galleries and some amazing artisan jewellery shops. If you are a sailor it also has a great anchorage that is 5m deep and the bottom a thick mud…just a perfect place for your anchor to dig in during a blow. If you like your food local and fresh there are a couple of really nice organic restaurants using all local produce which, we didn’t eat at, but are apparently fab.
Other great spots we have discovered this year are the super chilled out town of Sami on Cephalonia with the Melissani Lake cave a short walk away. The chic village of Fiskardo on the north of the island is a great place to hang out on land exploring the upmarket boutique’s or just relax sipping a beer on your boat watching the world go by.
On Kastos we found a wonderful inlet on the southwest end of the island, which was sheltered from the prevailing north westerlies. We climbed to the highest point of the island giving us a great view of the channel and Kalamos behind along with the signs of a rain rolling in towards us. So we had a quick scramble back to the boat in time to hear the bells of the goats tinkle around the bay. Before long it sounded like wind chimes were all around us as over a hundred goats made their way around the bay and back to the farm in the next cove. Again, you feel a million miles from anywhere.
This whole area makes up an amazing, diverse cruising ground with secluded anchorages, sophisticated towns and great food. Having spent a bit of time here I can see why some yachities never leave, it has everything…including a great afternoon nor wester which blows at 20 knots every day almost without fail. Just Perfect.